Home sweet home, and still Kenyan dreaming…
To those poor people who have dared ask “how was the trip?” – a thirty minute unleashing of all the amazing experiences, extraordinary encounters, incredible animals and all the awesomeness that is Kenya follows.
Every day I wear a little bit of Africa – it’s my wooden ring today, my beaded bracelet yesterday, my Maasai necklace the day before. Every day I share a little bit more about my magical Kenyan experience with anyone who will listen. Every day I look at more of my photos and clog up our group’s Facebook page…
Our group leader had said to me before we left that I needed to prepare myself to take a bit of Africa home with me; that the experiences that we would share would have a life-impacting affect on me. She was right. I will never forget entering the gates of Samburu National Reserve and being surrounded by a herd of Reticulated Giraffes. I will never forget seeing my first Grevy’s Zebra. I will never forget the big bull elephant who charged the bunker at the Ark and scared the pants off us. I will never forget the sound of the hippos playing outside my tent in the river. I will never forget floating above the grassy plains of the Masai Mara in a hot air balloon and spotting the three lions in the grass below. (I will never forget the landing either…) I will never forget the King, sitting proud and regal in the open, washing himself and casually keeping an eye on his pride. I will never forget the eyes of the children in the villages and the joy on their faces when we gave them the bubbles to blow.
I have been very lucky to have travelled a lot already in my lifetime, but Kenya was the first trip I have been on that has not been about visiting monuments or museums, eating at remarkable restaurants or hunting for bargains at name-brand department stores and outlets. Kenya is about Kenya – God’s country – the landscape, the animals, the people. It’s raw. It’s rough. It’s poor. It’s beautiful. It’s inspiring. It’s grounding. It’s magical. For this African first-timer, it was everything I could have wished for and more. And the big five? Tick!
What extra tips would I suggest for the first-time traveller to Kenya now that I’ve been? Here’s a summary:
As unattractive as it was, Fifty Shades of Safari was the way to go. Your clothing needs to be a mixture of light, bland colours with some short and some long-sleeved tops. The same is the case for the bottom half – some shorts, some trousers. One or two nicer items of clothing for evenings. A warm jumper and rain jacket are essential – and P.S. don’t do what I did and leave your raincoat at the lodge on the ONE DAY it absolutely pours down on you! Walking shoes, plus some kind of sandals/slip on shoes for evenings also a must. Hat and sunglasses, absolutely! I wore every item that I took with me, so I consider that a success.
TOILETRIES / MEDICATION
Talk to your travel doctor, but as 80% of our group ended up sick with a tummy bug at some stage, anti-nausea/anti-diarrhea/antibiotics are essential in my book. Bucket-loads of hand disinfectant are also highly recommended as the water is terrible, so getting your hands clean and sanitized is very, very important. Also, it’s a good idea to take everything that you are going to need with you, such as headache tablets, cold and flu tablets, female hygiene products, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner etc. It can be tricky to purchase these things while you are travelling as supermarkets and pharmacies are almost non-existent outside of Nairobi. Let’s just say there is no Woolworths or Walmart in the Masai Mara…
We had been advised to take US dollars cash with us and that we would need US cash to tip, bargain and purchase incidentals. I had the foresight to change some US dollars at my hotel in Nairobi into local currency – Kenyan Shillings – and was very grateful to have those few shillings on me to buy bottles of water, soft drinks, snacks and even to be able to purchase a few souvenirs with them. It seems that with the declining strength of the US dollar, shillings have appeal to the locals again. You certainly still need US cash, but having local currency will come in very handy for you in day-to-day purchases.
Unlike Americans, Australians despise tipping. It is such a foreign concept to us that it can be hard to get your head around having to pay people for doing what you deem is simply their job, regardless of whether they do it well or not. We Aussies are also generally quite happy to do things for ourselves, such as getting a bag out of a vehicle, or wheeling it down the lobby from your room when you are ready to check out. Leaving tips for everything is hard thing to swallow – the man who gets your bag out of the truck – $1. The man who then takes the bag to your room – another $1. The waiters who look after you at dinner or breakfast – another $2. Make sure you budget for it sufficiently – we tipped approximately US$5 per hotel per day to cover the staff, plus US$1 any time anywhere breathed near your luggage. Tipping drivers and guides is easier to accept – and I happily tipped our guides US$50 each for the nine days that they looked after us. I was told that about US$5 per day for a driver/guide is considered standard. I was glad to have had guidance regarding tips, because as I said, it’s just not part of Australian culture.
TRAVEL: DRIVING VS FLY IN-OUT
We drove almost all of our safari with the exception being the last flight from the Masai Mara to Nairobi (which was a 50 minute flight versus an eight hour drive). I really enjoyed seeing the townships, the people, the animals and the changing landscape of Kenya as we bumped our way on less-than-perfect roads from one game park to the other. For me, it was part of the experience, however I acknowledge that it is absolutely not for everyone. The rough roads test you out physically – if you suffer from any kind of neck or back injury, avoid the long distances wherever possible and take the flight. Ladies – wear a sports bra! I thought this was an exaggeration when I was advised it before I left, but I kid you not, it is an absolute MUST!!! So drive versus fly? It really comes down to the individual, the amount of time you have, your budget constaints. Ideally, I think a mixture is the way to – that way you enjoy the drive because it’s new and interesting and different, but then you fly to get you out and cover the really big distances.
So now that I’ve been there and done it, would I do it again? Absolutely. Would I encourage travellers to experience Kenya for themselves? One hundred percent. And the million dollar question: what would a 10 day Kenyan-only itinerary look like? In my opinion, quite a lot like mine, with a couple of exceptions…
Fly into Nairobi – 1 night – stay at the EKA HOTEL (4*) for convenience (no need to battle that Nairobi traffic) – or if you prefer downtown, opt for FAIRMONT NORFOLK (5*) or SOUTHERN SUN MAYFAIR (4*)
Fly to Samburu – 3 nights – stay at SAMBURU INTREPIDS TENTED CAMP (4*)
Drive to Lake Nakuru – 1 night – stay at SAROVA LION HILL LODGE (4*) or for a closer lake view opt for LAKE NAKURU LODGE (3.5*)
Drive to Lake Naivasha (with 2 hour boat ride on the lake) – 1 night – stay at LAKE NAIVASHA SOPA LODGE (4*)
Drive to Masai Mara – 3 nights – stay at SANCTUARY OLONANA (5*) or KICHWA TEMBO TENTED CAMP (4*)
Fly to Nairobi and continue home.
If you had time and wanted to combine with Tanzania, the only difference is that you would fly tom Mara to Amboseli, stay 2 nights there, then continue on to Arusha and into Tanzania that way. Money and time – the two greatest adversaries of a traveller!
So my Kenyan Dream comes to an end, having left a lasting impression upon me and my travelling companions. I hope that more of you are now Kenyan Dreaming too…
Thank you… to African Travel Specialists for putting together such a wonderful itinerary for our group… to Emirates for getting us there in style and comfort… to Travel Associates Noller & Turner for the opportunity to explore a new part of the world… to my fabulous travelling companions for sharing the moments and memories with me… and to my beautiful family for supporting the traveller in me.